Athletes and those who are active may take beta-alanine supplements to boost performance and strength. Here’s what beta-alanine can do for you and your health.
Beta-alanine is a popular supplement among athletes and fitness enthusiasts.
That’s because it’s been shown to enhance performance and benefit overall health.
This article explains everything you need to know about beta-alanine.
Beta-alanine is a non-essential amino acid.
Unlike most amino acids, it is not used by your body to synthesize proteins.
Instead, together with histidine, it produces carnosine. Carnosine is then stored in your skeletal muscles (1).
Beta-alanine is a non-essential amino acid. Your body uses it to produce carnosine, which helps improve exercise performance.
In your muscles, histidine levels are normally high and beta-alanine levels low, which limits the production of carnosine (1, 4).
Supplementing with beta-alanine has been shown to elevate carnosine levels in muscles by 80% (4, 5, 6, 7, 8).
This is how carnosine acts during exercise:
- Glucose is broken down: Glycolysis is the breakdown of glucose, which is the main source of fuel during high-intensity exercise.
- Lactate is produced: As you exercise, your muscles break glucose down into lactic acid. This is converted into lactate, which produces hydrogen ions (H+).
- Muscles become more acidic: The hydrogen ions reduce the pH level in your muscles, making them more acidic.
- Fatigue sets in: Muscle acidity blocks glucose breakdown and reduces your muscles’ ability to contract. This causes fatigue (8, 9, 10).
- Carnosine buffer: Carnosine serves as a buffer against the acid, reducing the acidity in muscles during high-intensity exercise (8, 11).
Since beta-alanine supplements increase carnosine levels, they help your muscles reduce their acid levels during exercise. This lessens overall fatigue.
Beta-alanine supplements increase carnosine, which reduces the acidity in your muscles during high-intensity exercise.
Beta-alanine improves athletic performance by reducing fatigue, increasing endurance and boosting performance in high-intensity exercises.
Increases Time to Exhaustion
Studies show that beta-alanine helps increase your time to exhaustion (TTE).
In other words, it helps you exercise for longer periods at a time. A study in cyclists found that four weeks of supplements increased total work completed by 13%, increasing an additional 3.2% after 10 weeks (3, 5, 8, 12).
Similarly, 20 men on a comparable cycling test increased their time to exhaustion by 13–14% after four weeks of beta-alanine supplements (13).
Benefits Shorter-Duration Exercises
In general, muscle acidosis limits the duration of high-intensity exercise.
For this reason, beta-alanine specifically helps performance during high-intensity and short-duration exercise lasting one to several minutes.
One study revealed that six weeks of taking beta-alanine increased TTE by 19% during high-intensity interval training (HIIT) (14).
In another study, 18 rowers who supplemented for seven weeks were 4.3 seconds faster than the placebo group in a 2,000-meter race lasting over 6 minutes (15).
For older adults, beta-alanine can help increase muscle endurance (16).
In resistance training, it can boost training volume and reduce fatigue. However, there’s no consistent evidence that beta-alanine improves strength (17, 18, 19, 20).
Beta-alanine is most effective in exercises lasting one to several minutes. It can help reduce fatigue while increasing exercise capacity and muscle endurance.
Some evidence suggests that beta-alanine may benefit body composition.
One study showed that supplementing for three weeks increased lean muscle mass (21).
It’s possible that beta-alanine improves body composition by increasing training volume and promoting muscle growth.
However, some studies show no significant differences in body composition and body weight after treatment (20, 22).
Beta-alanine can help increase exercise volume. This could lead to increases in lean body mass — although the evidence is mixed.
Beta-alanine increases carnosine levels, which may have several health benefits.
Interestingly, animal and test-tube studies indicate that carnosine has antioxidant, anti-aging and immune-enhancing properties. However, humans studies are needed.
The antioxidant benefits of carnosine include neutralizing free radicals and reducing oxidative stress (23, 24, 25).
Moreover, test-tube studies suggest that carnosine elevates nitric oxide production. This may help fight the aging process and improve heart health (26).
Lastly, carnosine may increase the quality and function of muscles in older adults (16, 27).
Carnosine has antioxidant and immune-enhancing properties. It also benefits muscle function in older adults.
The top food sources of beta-alanine are meat, poultry and fish.
It is a part of larger compounds — mainly carnosine and anserine — but breaks free when they are digested.
Vegetarians and vegans have about 50% less carnosine in their muscles compared to omnivores (28).
Although most people can get sufficient amounts of beta-alanine from their diet, supplements raise its levels even further.
Beta-alanine can be obtained from carnosine-rich foods, such as meat, poultry and fish.
The standard dosage of beta-alanine is 2–5 grams daily (29).
Consuming beta-alanine with a meal can further increase carnosine levels (30).
Beta-alanine supplements seem to be better at replenishing muscle carnosine levels than taking carnosine itself (31).
It is generally recommended to consume 2–5 grams of beta-alanine daily. Taking it with a meal may be even more effective.
Taking excessive amounts of beta-alanine may cause paraesthesia, an unusual sensation typically described as “tingling of the skin.” It’s usually experienced in the face, neck and back of the hands.
The intensity of this tingling increases with dosage size. It can be avoided by taking small doses — around 800 mg at a time (3).
There is no evidence that paraesthesia is harmful in any way (32).
Another possible side effect is a decline in taurine levels. This is because beta-alanine can compete against taurine for absorption in your muscles.
Side effects include tingling and decreases in taurine. The data is limited, but beta-alanine seems safe for healthy individuals.
Beta-alanine is often combined with other supplements, including sodium bicarbonate and creatine.
Sodium bicarbonate, or baking soda, enhances exercise performance by reducing acid in your blood and muscles (3).
Many studies have examined beta-alanine and sodium bicarbonate in combination.
The results suggest some benefits from combining the two supplements — especially during exercises in which muscle acidosis inhibits performance (33, 34).
Creatine helps high-intensity exercise performance by increasing ATP availability.
When used together, creatine and beta-alanine have been shown to benefit exercise performance, strength and lean muscle mass (35, 36, 37).
Beta-alanine may be even more effective when combined with supplements like sodium bicarbonate or creatine.
Beta-alanine enhances performance by increasing exercise capacity and decreasing muscle fatigue.
It also has antioxidant, immune-enhancing and anti-aging properties.
You can get beta-alanine from foods that contain carnosine or through supplements. The recommended dose is 2–5 grams daily.
Although excessive amounts may cause tingling in the skin, beta-alanine is considered to be a safe and effective supplement to boost exercise performance.